A new report by the Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free Initiative, has revealed that 46 per cent of the world’s 1.7 million children living with HIV were not on treatment in 2020 and 150, 000 children were newly infected with HIV, four times more than the 2020 estimate of 40,000.
UNAIDS and its partners, in a joint statement yesterday, warned that progress towards ending AIDS among children, adolescents and young women has stalled and none of the targets for 2020 were met.
The report showed that the total number of children on treatment declined for the first time, despite the fact that nearly 800, 000 children living with HIV are not currently on treatment. It also shows that opportunities to identify infants and young children living with HIV early are being missed, more than one third of children born to mothers living with HIV were not tested, adding that if untreated, around 50 per cent of children living with HIV will die before they reach their second birthday.
UNAIDS deputy executive director for programmes, Shannon Hader, said, “Over 20 years ago, initiatives for families and children to prevent vertical transmission and to eliminate children dying of AIDS truly started what has now become our global AIDS response.
“This stemmed from an unprecedented activation of all partners, yet, despite early and dramatic progress, despite more tools and knowledge than ever before, children are falling way behind adults and way behind our goals.
“The inequalities are striking, children are nearly 40 per cent less likely than adults to be on life-saving treatment (54 per cent of children versus 74 per cent of adults), and account for disproportionate number of deaths (just five per cent of all people living with HIV are children, but children account for 15 per cent of all AIDS-related deaths).
“This is about children’s right to health and healthy lives, their value in our societies. It’s time to reactivate on all fronts, we need the leadership, activism, and investments to do what’s right for kids.”
Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free is a five-year framework that began in 2015, flowing from the hugely successful Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive.
It called for a super fast-track approach to ensure that every child has an HIV-free beginning, that they stay HIV-free through adolescence and that every child and adolescent living with HIV has access to antiretroviral therapy.
The approach intensified focus on 23 countries, 21 of which were in Africa, that accounted for 83 per cent of the global number of pregnant women living with HIV, 80 per cent of children living with HIV and 78 per cent of young women aged 15–24 years newly infected with HIV.
The assistant director-general of the Universal Health Coverage/Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases Division of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ren Minghui said, “The HIV community has a long history of tackling unprecedented challenges, today, we need that same energy and perseverance to address the needs of the most vulnerable – our children.
“African leaders have the power to help us change the pace of care and should act and lead until no child living with HIV is left behind,’’ he added.
Although the 2020 targets were missed, the 21 focus countries in Africa made better progress than the non-focus countries. However, there were major disparities between countries, and these countries still bear the highest burden of disease, the report noted, adding that 11 countries account for nearly 70 per cent of the “missing children” those living with HIV but not on treatment.
“While we are deeply distressed by the global paediatric HIV shortfalls, we are also encouraged by the fact that we largely have the tools we need to change this. So, let this report be a call to action to challenge complacency and to work tirelessly to close the gap,” said Acting United States Global AIDS Coordinator, Angeli Achrekar.
“The lives of the most vulnerable girls and young women hang in the balance, locked into deeply entrenched cycles of vulnerability and neglect that must urgently be interrupted. With the endorsement of United Nations Member States, the new global AIDS strategy recommits us all to address these intersecting vulnerabilities to halt and reverse the effects of HIV by 2030.
“We know that rapid gains can be achieved for girls and young women; what is needed is the courage to apply the solutions, and the discipline to implement these with rigor and scale,” said United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) chief of HIV and associate director of health programmes, Chewe Luo.